Automating Your Way to Artistic Success

Play Butter Royale on Apple Arcade!

As a generalist artist there are two things that have served me well throughout my career:

  • Being able to do a bit of everything (2D, 3D, animation, etc.)
  • Creating systems to automate repetitive tasks

In Butter Royale we have over 50 characters. Each of them has a Contestant Reveal animation to show off the new character on social media.

You *could* create 50 different animated sequences, or you could use a standard template and create slight variations (the smart choice).

Planning a template

Let’s start by creating the Contestant Reveal animation template.

The basic flow

Besides making the reveal look good, there are a few things we need to keep in mind when we build the system:

  • Customising and replacing assets needs to be easy to do, even for non-artists (imagine Super Mario Maker but instead of levels we’re working with animation clips).
  • If a non-artist opens my file, is everything understandable enough for them not to be confused about what needs to be replaced, and will they be able to make the necessary replacements?
  • Can all images and text be edited easily?
  • How can a user replace the main character and movements while keeping the reveal animations?

As we create the system, we should always keep in mind that making changes should require as few steps as possible and be easy enough for even a non-artist to do it. This can only happen if we start with a strong foundation.

Standard Contestant Reveal Animation

Now that we have a Contestant Reveal template, it will serve the primary foundation for the remaining ~50 clips.

The breakdown

Let’s break this clip into parts and see how we can standardise or modify specific areas.

  • The introduction and end credit scene needs to be consistent in every video. We can leave it as it is.
  • The Reveal Process scene is trickier. It uses Blender and Maya to create the revealing animation scene. In this scene, the character is dark in the beginning, then it glows, and finally it bursts into a bright light revealing the character.
  • How do we make this specific requirement apply to all characters? I dealt with this problem by using a shared, animated material in Blender for this scene.
  • Bender is able to create a shader that can turn black and glow. I can animate the shader based on these requirements and assign this material to new characters.
  • If new characters are needed, all we have to do is import the new character, assign this shader, replace the texture maps, and render! That’s a total of 4 steps.
  • An additional benefit to using Blender is that we could render the scenes using Eevee, which uses OpenGL and reduces render times to something close to real-time.

Butter Royale on Twitter: "Raz-berry here, with my fave new accessory, the Razer Kraken BT Kitty Headset! Just snapping these on makes me wanna dance! Paws up, let's get Meow-ing! #RazerLearnToMeow #ButterRoyale / Twitter"

Raz-berry here, with my fave new accessory, the Razer Kraken BT Kitty Headset! Just snapping these on makes me wanna dance! Paws up, let's get Meow-ing! #RazerLearnToMeow #ButterRoyale

Providing flexibility

We can also give this scene more variety. You could work with the animators and tell them to standardise the animation for all characters for frames 1–115 so that the characters will be in sync with all the camera movements and shader animations.

Then if the animators want the characters to jump or move differently from each other, it’s possible as there are no more shader animations or camera movements from that point onwards.

There should also be enough flexibility to make small changes. One example of this could be if there is a request to change the animation glow colour to a rainbow or a different colour. This needs to be easy enough that a non-artist can make the changes with the help of simple documentation.

This scene is made in After Effects and we need to be able to replace the image and change the text. Lucky, this process is quite simple as anyone can replace the image and edit the text. The change will then be propagated to the master scene, thanks to After Effect’s file references.

Documenting it all

We write all our documentation by hand! (just kidding)

Finally, we need to document the process. Keep this documentation sweet and straight to the point.

Do not assume everyone is familiar with the tools. Show step-by-step, where to find what and how to adjust it. I like to use images and highlight every critical area.

Example documentation

If at the start of the documentation I just write “import characters”, anyone not familiar with the software is going to be confused. I’d probably get questions like “how do I import the characters?”, “where is the import button?”, etc.

As a final check, you’ll want to then test the documentation on a newcomer or a non-artist. If they can understand it, you’ll be fine.

Closing word

Think of this process like building a house. So long as the foundations are solid you’ll have the freedom to change or add layers to any part of the house easily without fear of everything collapsing around you!

That’s all from me! I hope this article was enjoyable and helpful — feel free to leave some comments if you have other tips for Blender, Maya or After Effects, and don’t forget to give me claps!

Thank you!

Automating Your Way to Artistic Success was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.